Sunday after Christmas| December 26, 2004| Rev. Rolf Preus
Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity; and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem. (Luke 2:36-38)
There is only one woman in the New Testament who is identified as a prophetess. She is Anna, the old widow who spent most of her life in the temple, fasting and praying. She was widowed a mere seven years after she was married. She apparently had no children. Her life was a life of simple worship.
And she was a prophetess. No other woman in the New Testament is called a prophetess. In the Acts of the Apostles we learn that Philip the Evangelist had four virgin daughters who prophesied. The Bible does not call them prophetesses and there is no record of anything they said. In St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians he tells the women who were prophesying publicly that they should cover up their heads when they did so. These women are not called prophetesses and no record has been kept of anything they said. There is a woman named Jezebel mentioned in the Revelation of St. John who called herself a prophetess, but she was clearly a false prophetess and did not speak for God.
Anna is the only woman named in the New Testament as a true prophetess. She came into the temple at the very moment that Simeon spoke God’s word concerning the Christ Child. The words Simeon spoke that Anna heard are the words of the Nunc Dimittis:
Lord, now you let your servant depart in peace
According to your word
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
Which you have prepare before the face of all people.
A light to lighten the Gentiles,
And the glory of your people.
The Church sings the Nunc Dimittis during Vespers. She also sings it after receiving the Lord’s Supper. Simeon saw his salvation when he held the infant Lord Jesus in his arms. We see the same salvation when we eat and drink the body of the Lord Jesus in the Sacrament of the Altar. The baby Jesus became the man Jesus. The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay became the suffering Servant who was stricken, smitten, and afflicted on the cross. He is the Child born unto us. He is the Son given unto us. He is born of a woman. He, who gave His law for us to obey, Himself submits to its authority. He was born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might become adopted into God’s family.
Anna prophesied about this redemption. Our text tell us: “And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.” Simeon did not mention redemption. Anna did. She knew that the only way this Child could be our salvation, be the light to lighten the Gentiles with God’s saving truth, and bring glory to the nation of Israel would be if He were also the Redeemer who would bring redemption.
Anna prayed and fasted and fasted and prayed. She did not live a normal life. Prophets lived rather odd lives, often wearing strange clothes and behaving in strange ways. Prophets were always called directly by God into the office of prophet. Prophets and prophetesses are different from pastors in this respect. God sent prophets and prophetesses God directly without the participation of the church. We call these immediate calls. The call of a pastor, on the other hand, is a mediate call because God calls pastors through the church. God called me to be your pastor. But He didn’t do so immediately. He did so mediately. He acted through this congregation to extend to me His call to preach His gospel and administer His sacraments. That’s not how God sent the prophets of old. He didn’t give to His church – either of the Old Testament or of the New Testament – the authority to act on His behalf in choosing prophets or prophetesses. He did give to His church the authority to act on His behalf in calling pastors.
The difference between an immediate call directly from God and a mediate call in which God calls through His church is a very important difference for us to understand. God immediately called women to prophesy. We have examples of this in the Old Testament. Deborah (Judges 4) and Huldah (2 Kings 22) are called prophetesses. God called them directly, just as He called Anna directly. The church has no authority to put a man or a woman into the office of prophet. In choosing prophets, God always acts alone.
With respect to the pastoral office, however, God always calls through the church. Pastors are called to serve specific churches and God gives to the congregation the authority to put men into the pastoral office so that they may publicly preach the gospel and administer the sacraments of Christ as God’s servant among them. God does not give congregations the authority to put women into the pastoral office. In fact, He explicitly forbids this practice. In 1 Corinthians 14:34, the Apostle Paul uses the word “shameful” to describe a woman speaking in church as if she were the pastor of the congregation. In 1 Timothy 2:12 St. Paul directly forbids a woman from the teaching that belongs to the pastoral office. The church may not appoint women to preach publicly in the church. God strictly forbids this.
It is not up to us to question why God says what He says. We may not defy His instructions to us when the popular culture demands that we do so. Woman may not serve as pastors in Christ’s Church. Churches that put women in the pulpit do so in defiance of God’s clear word. While the people may regard such women as pastors of the Church, God does not so regard them.
But that’s not to say that God has not, does not, and will not speak His holy word through the mouths of Christian women. He has, He does, and He most certainly will. Anna is just one example. To anyone who still believed that Jerusalem was the city of peace where the holy God came to His people, Anna was the voice of God. God spoke through her of the redemption that Mary’s Child would bring to Israel and to the whole world. In her old age God revealed to her her own personal redemption. For what was she praying all those years? She was praying that God would fulfill the promise He had repeated through His prophets for thousands of years. As she fasted and prayed in the temple, she prayed to God that He would bring to fruition the true meaning of the temple as the meeting place where God would meet His people. She knew that that meeting could only take place where the blood of the promised Savior was shed. God spoke through Anna to others. God spoke through her of the redemption that had already begun as the infant Jesus began to live under the law the life of sacrificial obedience that would set the whole world free.
Anna prophesied. She did not need a call from the church to do so. She had a call directly from God. She spoke to anyone who would listen. God does not put Christian women in the pulpit. But He most certainly speaks through them. He speaks His gospel through them. It was to the women at the tomb that God first proclaimed the resurrection of Christ. The woman at the well acknowledged and confessed Jesus long before most of the men recognized who He was. Martha confessed Jesus as the Christ before He raised her brother, Lazarus from the dead.
People who have deeply imbibed the biases of our post-Christian culture often stand in judgment against Christian churches that still obey God’s instructions that forbid the ordination of woman as pastors. People believe that this prohibition assigns to women an inferior status. They believe that if women may not be pastors this must mean that they have nothing to say about God that matters. But that’s not true. Not only did God speak of the redemption of sinners through the voice of Anna He has done so through millions of female Christian voices throughout the history of His church on earth. Think of the Magnificat of Mary, sung by Christians throughout the ages. Here are words of divine prophecy coming from the lips of the mother of God herself. She needed no call from the church to speak the words that God gave her to speak. As surely as God Himself took up residency in her virgin womb, God also spoke through her voice His holy word to be sung, confessed, and believed by Christians all over the world.
Note what Anna, the prophetess, prophesied about: Christ’s redemption. She spoke of God setting us free, not by the payment of gold or silver, but by the payment of the obedience and death of His beloved Son. He was begotten of His Father before all worlds. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man in time. It was the fullness of time. It was the right time. It was the time set by God from eternity and fulfilled in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of His Son.
Anna prophesied about Christ’s redemption. She spoke of how this little baby would shed His blood to take away all sins. And she speaks for all Christians, men and women. She confesses what we believe. She is like Christian mothers who, during this holy season, finds great joy in seeing their children and grandchildren gathered around them. She gives meaning to the love of Christmas that goes even deeper than a mother’s love for her children. She testifies to the love of God for His wayward and sinful and defiant children who refused to come home to join Him. She tells how God graciously brought them home by redeeming them from their sin, delivering them from their defiant hearts, and sending the Holy Spirit into their hearts to enable them to confess the Christian faith. Anna speaks for our Christian mothers. Therefore we will honor this prophetess by honoring the Christian mothers that God, in His great mercy, has given to us. Amen.